Mandatory Reporting Laws of Elder Abuse Essay

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Many states have enacted reporting laws mandating the reporting of violence, including gunshots, injuries, and child abuse to law enforcement and/or social services. A few states have enacted domestic violence reporting laws. All states and the District of Columbia have enacted elder abuse reporting laws. In most cases, reporting is mandated; in a handful of states, laws encourage or permit reporting.

There is considerable variation in who is a mandated reporter and what conduct is reportable. In some states, everyone is a mandated reporter of elder abuse; in others, only certain professionals (typically law enforcement officials, health care and mental health providers, social workers, staff of Adult Protective Services [APS], Long Term Care Ombudsman, and aging services programs), persons providing care services to the elderly, attorneys, guardians, educators, and employees of financial institutions are mandated. Reportable conduct usually includes abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. In some states, self-neglect is not reportable conduct. In some states, abandonment and abduction are also included as reportable conduct.

Reports are usually made to APS. In some jurisdictions and situations, reports are made to law enforcement instead of APS or in addition to APS. In most jurisdictions, failure of a mandated reporter to report is a crime. In many states, persons who report in good faith are immune from criminal and civil liability. Generally, the name of the reporting party is confidential and is not disclosed except pursuant to a court’s order.

Elder abuse reporting laws have been largely modeled on child abuse reporting laws. Little analysis was given to whether the analogy is appropriate. The primary motivation for enacting them was to assist in detection. Mandatory reporting has resulted in more investigations than voluntary reporting. Relying on victims and their family members to report was seen as ineffective.

Benefits of mandatory reporting include enhancing safety by linking victims with services that provide information and referrals. Supporters of mandatory reporting argue that many victims are unable to report due to physical or cognitive deficits, isolation, or the inability to recognize what has occurred. Mandatory reporting offers an opportunity to train reporters on abuse issues, including the dynamics and effects of abuse. Reporting may lead to greater abuser accountability, potentially enhancing victim safety. Mandatory reporting increases the number of documented cases, increasing understanding of elder abuse prevalence and incidence.

However, elder abuse reporting laws are controversial and have been criticized. Older individuals may fear loss of control if outsiders are involved, loss of independence and isolation if a caregiver is removed, and fear of angering family members for involving outsiders. They may fear not being believed if they do report. Family members may be unwilling to report because of family privacy, love and affection, fear, uncertainty of how to handle a situation, or a desire not to get involved. They may be unaware of elder abuse and protective services. Some professionals are concerned that an older person will not return for help if he or she knows a report will be made and the professional relationship will be harmed. Investigations are involuntary and can be intrusive, resulting in an outcome the older person does not desire.

Opponents of mandatory reporting believe adult victims should have the right to decide if they want help and from whom. In jurisdictions using age-only criteria (not impairment or vulnerability), laws have been challenged as ageist and as approaches that infantilize adults. Laws do not take into account that adults retain their rights to make decisions for themselves and their ability to control confidential information provided as part of a professional relationship. Mandatory reporting removes from the victim the decision whether to ask for help and from which agency. Elder abuse laws largely override confidentiality even without a finding of incapacity.

Current laws generally do not address victim safety in the context of mandatory reporting. Specifically, there is no requirement that reporters provide safety planning or a referral or assistance to the subject of the report. Reports do not require that the reporter ask about or include in the report information about victim safety concerns. Statutes generally do not require that the mandated reporter notify an older person that a report will be filed with appropriate authorities.

Even when the older adult lacks capacity, reporting laws may be unable to deliver what they have promised. Mandatory reporting is only successful if supportive services with qualified staff and necessary resources exist. Unfortunately, APS is generally underfunded and understaffed in most areas of the country. Reporting does not guarantee a successful APS intervention. APS programs face increasing caseloads and dwindling resources. Investigations may be undertaken with inadequate funding or train inconsistent, available services vary widely, and funding levels do not ensure that adequate resources are available to address or improve an elder’s situation. In addition, there are few quality treatment programs for perpetrators. The Governmental Accountability Office has concluded that public and professional awareness, interagency coordination, and adequate in-home and respite care services are more effective responses to elder abuse than the existing mandatory reporting laws.

Community-based advocates who are mandatory reporters face ethical and practice dilemmas. They must balance legal duties with client autonomy and safety considerations. They should confirm if state statutes on client confidentiality apply and which have priority over the other. Discussions of safety planning should include reporting situations. Cross training with APS and other mandated reporters on victim safety issues should be considered. Forging professional contacts and relationships with APS and developing memoranda of understanding regarding mandatory elder abuse reporting situations may become critical.


  1. Brandl, B. (2005). Mandatory reporting of elder abuse: Implications for domestic violence advocates. Madison, WI: National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life, A Project of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved from Mandatory_Reporting_EA.pdf
  2. Daly, J. M., Jogerst, G. J., Brinig, M. F., & Dawson, J. D. (2003). Mandatory reporting: Relationship of APS statute language on state reported elder abuse. Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 15(2), 1–21.
  3. National Adult Protective Services Association:
  4. National Center on Elder Abuse:

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